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Author Topic: Advice Required Regarding Inaccurate References  (Read 1090 times)

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Guitarmaniac86

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Advice Required Regarding Inaccurate References
« on: February 07, 2017, 03:07:53 AM »

I have finished my PhD. I submitted in January and am awaiting my viva date. I have been applying for jobs and getting interviews and being offered jobs. However, after they receive references, the offeres are withdrawn with no explanation other than the information received by my supervisors was key to their decision to withdraw the offer.

So, I asked my supervisors what they said. They implied that they told the jobs that I was completely unproductive during the PhD. This came as a blow though not out of the blue as productivity was raised on several occassions. I asked them what their measure was, and they said "total number of compounds." I argued the point that this is an unfair measure as it does not take into consideration the years of failed experiments and constant changes to synthetic routes to get to the intended targets. They said number of experiments does not consitute being productive as it none of these failed experiements lead anywhere. Therefore, all those years of 60+ hour weeks, weekends in the lab, all of it, where the reactions failed over and over, are meaningless. They refuse to understand this point.

They have effectively killed any scientific career in industry I could hope to have. I was in that lab every damn day doing reactions knowing they would fail. I used that failure to inform and optimise the routes. I got three routes optimised, only two complete, but the third, half way there. My thesis has 52 compounds. Only 22 of them are final compounds. 30 of them are intermediate compounds in the route. I have no papers either, but thats because the industrial sponsor wont let us publish due to trade secrets.

Counting all the model reactions and failed routes, I have synthesised around 80 odd compounds. More than 100 if you count the one off test reactions. I fail to see where I have been unproductive. I dont know what to do. They are the only people that can give me references. My career is over. If I pass the PhD, the last 4 years will be for nothing if I cant get a job in industry. I have no transferable skills outside of science. I can present well, analyse data, I am good under pressure, I am flexible, a team player but science is all I know. Chemistry is all I love. No employer will take me on with the references that have been sent out.

I know I have been a royal pain in this forum of late, and for that I am sorry.
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Corribus

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Re: Advice Required Regarding Inaccurate References
« Reply #1 on: February 07, 2017, 04:12:08 AM »

If your current supervisor(s) won't give you a good reference, that does put you in a bind, unfortunately. Honestly, it sends a mixed message for a supervisor to allow you to receive a degree but then stick you with a bad reference. If they didn't think you were meritorious of the degree, they shouldn't have let you receive it, and a good mentor would have encouraged you long ago to take a difference career path. It seems like your supervisor isn't a particularly good mentor.

Anyway, neither here nor there. You're stuck with what you have.

Do you have anyone else who could give you a positive professional reference? Or at least, could speak to some of the mitigating circumstances? Even if they aren't your supervisor, it might give potential employers another perspective to consider.
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Babcock_Hall

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Re: Advice Required Regarding Inaccurate References
« Reply #2 on: February 07, 2017, 05:44:21 AM »

The only thing I can think of is to do a postdoctoral stint with a new mentor who does not have a limitation with respect to what can be published.  If it goes well, you will generate one strong reference and a certain number of papers.  But if it does go well, then I would inform the previous supervisors you have had, and ask them to revise their letters accordingly.
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Guitarmaniac86

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Re: Advice Required Regarding Inaccurate References
« Reply #3 on: February 07, 2017, 06:17:43 AM »

To Corribus and Babock_Hall, having read both your posts, you have given me a little glimmer of hope. I have contacted a few potential people to see if they would be willing to provide references and made them aware that I understand if they cannot do so in good faith. I said that so that they didnt feel obligated to.

A Post doc is something I have considered also, but not at my current institution. I could not stand to be in that place one more day. I know I cannot afford to be picky, so I am seriously evaluating my options here. I am thinking about which mentor in the department might be worth contacting. There are a few possibilities I think.

I also had a thought. If I pass the PhD, I am seriously considering taking the university to court over the references claiming that the university is guilty of negligent mis-statement, and that negligence cost me a job opportunity. However, I would need a copy of the references (which I am in the process of obtaining), and proof of the job offer and withdrawal of said offer due to the reference issue, which I have. I am concerned though, that by taking legal action, I will cement forever, the death of any career.
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Corribus

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Re: Advice Required Regarding Inaccurate References
« Reply #4 on: February 07, 2017, 10:56:44 AM »

I also had a thought. If I pass the PhD, I am seriously considering taking the university to court over the references claiming that the university is guilty of negligent mis-statement, and that negligence cost me a job opportunity. However, I would need a copy of the references (which I am in the process of obtaining), and proof of the job offer and withdrawal of said offer due to the reference issue, which I have. I am concerned though, that by taking legal action, I will cement forever, the death of any career.
You will certainly cement forever a very bad relationship with your mentor. Plus I think it'd be a difficult lawsuit to win.

Babcock_Hall's suggestion is a pretty good one. You should definitely look at other institutions, because from your language it seems that your current university is certainly poisoned to you and depending on your advisor's disposition it may be that you are poisoned to it. The recommendation of your advisor will be helpful for any application to a post-doc position, so I would discuss with your advisor how much support he or she could give you. In the event he or she will not write you a good letter, try to find a few people who will and contact potential post-doc advisors on your own, and explain in your cover letter the situation in as positive terms as you can. My feeling is that a post-doc advisor will be more forgiving to an "unproductive" PhD run than industry, seeing as they should be more familiar with the way that basic research often goes.

This kind of thing may also reinvigorate your interest in science after what appears to be a few very frustrating years.

Alternatively you might considering leveraging your PhD for non-research career paths.
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Guitarmaniac86

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Re: Advice Required Regarding Inaccurate References
« Reply #5 on: February 19, 2017, 04:51:39 AM »

I had a meeting with my supervisors and basically it has come down to this. They will never give me a good reference for any lab based role as they believe I should move away from the lab. They said if I applied for non-lab roles they would write glowing references. I asked them if it was fair for them to decide my future career like this and they said "We have both put through about 20 PhD students through the process and we know who will excel in a lab based career and who wont. We feel you are better suited to writing science than doing lab work." I said thank you for your time and walked out. There was no getting through to them.

I am upset that they have essentially decided my career path for me, but I am glad I had a chance to meet with them and discuss things. I will miss working in a lab.
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DrCMS

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Re: Advice Required Regarding Inaccurate References
« Reply #6 on: February 19, 2017, 05:20:29 AM »

Maybe you should consider if they have a point?
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Babcock_Hall

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Re: Advice Required Regarding Inaccurate References
« Reply #7 on: February 20, 2017, 04:17:30 AM »

They may be right.  However, if you are sure they are wrong, the only thing I can see is doing a postdoc elsewhere, as I have previously said.  If the latter, I would ask to meet with one or both supervisors again.  You are not going to change their minds now; therefore, there is no point in trying.  However, you could ask them to be more specific in what it is that they think you lack.  Sometimes talented people have certain traits or habits that hold them back.  For example, it took me a while to see that I am sometimes a poor manager of my time.  One supervisor tried to point this out to me, but it was years later that I realized what he was trying to say.  Such a meeting does not have to be confrontational, and should not be.
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Ibrido

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Re: Advice Required Regarding Inaccurate References
« Reply #8 on: February 22, 2017, 11:43:29 AM »

Have you considered the editor career? A shiny reference from them could help, and that may be a fantastic job if you like studying!
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Babcock_Hall

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Re: Advice Required Regarding Inaccurate References
« Reply #9 on: February 22, 2017, 01:50:39 PM »

I know of one Ph.D. scientist who made a career out of writing and editing grant proposals.
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Irlanur

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Re: Advice Required Regarding Inaccurate References
« Reply #10 on: March 08, 2017, 11:33:17 PM »

Don't take me wrong, but the whole
Quote
I got three routes optimised, only two complete, but the third, half way there. My thesis has 52 compounds. Only 22 of them are final compounds. 30 of them are intermediate compounds in the route.
and
Quote
I asked them what their measure was, and they said "total number of compounds."
thing is absolutely ridiculous from a science point of view. Why would you even count that? It makes me question the academic credibility of your supervisors.

Although this sentence is a bit odd:
Quote
I was in that lab every damn day doing reactions knowing they would fail.
Why did you do them if you knew they would fail?


Forgetting all of this, I think the most important thing for you is to find out how you actually performed. You need honest opinions that you can believe. Your supervisors can obviously not give you that. They might be right, they might be wrong. But if you actually did not do very well in the lab, you will not become happy in industry if you're in the lab all day.
Are there any peers you trust? Could you have an honest talk with them and ask them to be brutally honest with you?

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Guitarmaniac86

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Re: Advice Required Regarding Inaccurate References
« Reply #11 on: March 10, 2017, 04:32:30 AM »

Sorry for the very late reply, thank you to everyone who has given me advice thus far. I will try and address all points in this post whilst giving an update.

I met with my supervisors again and they basically told me that in no uncertain terms will they ever give me a reccomendation to work in any laboratory environment whether industrial or academic. They do not think I should ever do a post-doc and that my lab skills are not up to par.

I then scheduled another meeting with a mediator and they changed their tune very quickly. The tone was more "we advise you look for jobs better suited to your abilities such as writing roles or management roles." They denied a lot of things they said and afterwards I spoke with the mediator who mentioned that they had a very good feeling they were lying to them.

I have a job now and a viva date set for the end of April. I have gone to my students union and put in a complaint about my supervisors and that is currently being investigated. A post-doc in my lab looked at the references that my supervisors had given me, and they were shocked at the level of bias. The post-doc has said that they will do my references for me because "its clear prof x and dr y have had it in for you for a while now." We had a frank discussion of my abilities and the post doc said "If I was grading you out of 10 like prof x and dr y had, I would have given you 7 for professional conduct, 7 for interpersonal, 10 for honesty 10 for timekeeping, 7 for time management. Your quality of work and productivity I would have scored you average, you weren't the best but you tried hard and worked hard when it counted." They were shocked I was given 1/10 or 2/10 in every category. I spoke with ex-lab members who also saw the references and said that it showed clear bias and they would be willing to write character references to the university of the investigation. The industrial sponsor has not seen the references because I do not want to cause that fight, but they have written more accurate references for me and told me to go to them for references as "academics rarely know what to write in these things and its easy for them to slip up and cost you a job." I dont know what they mean by that exactly...

To give a bit more detail. My supervisors and I have been at loggerheads for 3.5 of the 4 years of the PhD and I have had to fight them on every decision, every route change, every piece of work, at literally everything. In year 1 the industrial sponsor wanted a piece of work done and gave my supervisors the go ahead to do what was needed. After 3 months, nothing was working so I wrote up my results, did a literature report with it, and argued for a route change showing that the work we were doing was not ever going to work. My supervisors said "no" and told me to go away and "make it work." I argued that the fundamental chemistry would not work and showed them paper after paper to back up my claim. It was dismissed. I went to the industrial sponsor and pleaded my case, an emergency meeting was called, threats to pull funding were made, I was allowed to do my route change... 2 years later.

In that intervening two years the following happened. I was tasked with making a library of compounds. After 4 were made, I was told they would be sent for testing and NOT to complete the library until the results were in. The industrial sponsor did not like this and told me finish the library. It took that two years to do it because of... My supervisors fighting with me and the industrial sponors. In the meantime I was working on route 3 and that wasnt going well but I made it work with no real interference from my supervisors or my industrial sponsor. They were pleased with that at least.

Whilst doing route 3, the compounds that were sent for testing were not tested because the company went under and it took 2 years to find another place to do it, the contracts are not sorted yet and I have already submitted my thesis so I cant benefit from the results. I finished the first library in 2015 two years after I started it and I started the route change I argued for in 2015 also. So it took two years to get to where I should have been by 2014.

To answer Iranur, when I said I spent most of my time doing reactions I knew would not work, I meant exactly that. My supervisors never listened to my concerns about certain routes and would send me away to do "more research" either literature or experimental to prove nothing was working. I wasted so much time on reactions that would never have worked but my supervisors insisted that I do them anyway for "completeness." I spent months arguing for route changes, different reagents, conditions etc to be used and they resisted until I went to the industrial sponsor or just went behind their back and ordered the chemicals I wanted after I got them to sign an order form. I would add the chemicals I wanted after the fact.

The post doc thinks that this is why they have given me bad references and said I had bad interpersonal skills, because I would always go around them and get what I wanted. They hated not having full control of the project and hated that I would go to the industrial sponsor and put pressure on them to do things. In the end, I made my own bed by just doing what I thought was right for the project. I should have just did what my supervisors said and let the PhD fail because its what would have happened if I did not fight for every inch to do what was necassary. I even had to go to the university to get time to write my thesis. They wanted me to write the whole thing in the month before submission because they wanted me in the lab until the day I submitted. I complained that no one else in my lab had to do that and most people were given 3 - 6 months to write up. I started writing at the start of my final year and I did not get back drafts until 8 months later because "we dont want you writing yet."

I am so glad that in 1 month I NEVER have to deal with them again.
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Corribus

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Re: Advice Required Regarding Inaccurate References
« Reply #12 on: March 10, 2017, 05:19:11 AM »

This is going to sound a little like closing the door after the horses have already left the barn, but maybe this can be helpful to anyone else in the same situation who comes along and read this thread: if you were having this much conflict with a supervisor, particularly over basic research strategies and feasibility, you should have changed labs a long time ago. It's a simple fact that (a) not all professors are good mentors and (b) not every graduate student is well suited for the style of work that goes in the lab or the particular management style evinced by the supervisor. (To be fair, not every graduate student is really cut out for laboratory science, either.) Any of those cases the best solution is often for the student and mentor to part ways. Although starting over in another lab could be viewed as a setback, I think you can see how it might have saved you time and frustration in the long run. I've known graduate students who were failing hard in one lab, only to transfer to another (usually at the mentor's instigation) and find much better success.

This is, by the way, also a good example of how industry sponsorship of academic science do not always mix well.

Anyway, sounds like you have found a resolution to your issue. But, you may be a little naive to think that you will never have to deal with them again. Research often ends up being a small world. I still recommend you swallow your pride and try to leave in as positive a way as you can. This is an important aspect of being a professional.
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Guitarmaniac86

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Re: Advice Required Regarding Inaccurate References
« Reply #13 on: March 10, 2017, 07:02:59 AM »

I had a chance to walk out in my first year into another PhD but I did not take it because... I dont know why I didnt. I knew 3 months in I did not want to stay but I stayed.

I am keeping everything professional with my supervisors and I have moved away from research for good now I think. I dont think I will be doing any chemistry ever again in my career. I have an office based med comms job now and I like it so I wont be going back to the lab.

Thanks again to everyone for everything.
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